NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Is Garnett completely gone from Wolves? — He announced his retirement Friday after 21 years in the NBA, fitting since that was his uniform number, and Kevin Garnett will be forever linked to the Wolves perhaps more than the Celtics. But what’s in his next chapter? There was always scuttlebutt about Garnett becoming a part-owner of the Wolves but that doesn’t appear likely. And the coaching position is filled. Maybe Garnett should cut the cord completely if he’s not involved in ownership, so says Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune…
It was such a nice story, evoking nostalgia and promise in the same swoop of the pen.
Flip Saunders employed all of his charm to woo Kevin Garnett back to Minnesota, offering trunks of money, a voice at practice, a place in the starting lineup and a future in franchise decision-making.
When the Minnesota Timberwolves were desperate for validation and credibility, Flip’s seduction of the greatest player in franchise history made sense. Then everything changed.
Flip passed away, leaving Garnett without his greatest champion and intermediary in the organization.
Garnett played a career-low 15 minutes a game in a career-low 38 games, undermining his ability to lead by example on the court.
Wolves owner Glen Taylor hired Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden to run his basketball operation.
In the old Wolves world order, every former employee of any pedigree had a virtual lifetime contract, renewable whenever convenient for the employee.
Flip’s passing and the arrival of the best cache of young talent in Wolves history, and perhaps the most authoritative coach in franchise history, converted the Wolves from the best version of their old self under Flip to the New Wolves Order.
Flip built relationships and sometimes avoided conflict. For him, Garnett could be the ideal partner — a superstar who was also taskmaster and intimidator.
Thibodeau likely wants his voice to be the loudest in every practice and huddle. He is the alpha male in the organization, and by nature of his personality needs little help yelling out defensive instructions or wielding power.
If Garnett is not going to become a part-owner or assistant general manager or loud voice at the end of the bench, he has no role in the New Wolves Order. He’s no longer even needed to sell tickets or lead marketing campaigns. That falls to Karl-Anthony Towns, a fast-rising star who is also as likeable and marketable as was the young Garnett, before he grew quills.
Channeled rage made Garnett great, and would make him an uncomfortable member of the NWO.
Now is the right time for Garnett to move on. The method by which that would happen is a matter for Taylor and Garnett. It would be best for the Wolves if Garnett simply retired, but let’s not go so far as to say that Garnett owes that to the Wolves. He carried the franchise for a decade, brought the Wolves their greatest success and had to be coaxed into accepting the trade to Boston.
Taylor (the owner of the Star Tribune, by the way) needs to do whatever it takes to buy out Garnett, to give Thibodeau a locker room where his voice will be the loudest.
If Garnett departs, the NBA and Minnesota sports will officially be changed places. The NBA could find Garnett, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant in the same Hall of Fame class. Minnesota will have experienced the retirements of Torii Hunter, Jerry Kill and Garnett, and career-threatening injuries to Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson.
Garnett would retire as the only player in NBA history to reach at least 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 steals and 1,500 blocks. He may also be the rare NBA superstar to have punched multiple teammates during practices over the course of his career.
Perhaps Garnett could have written a sweeter ending to his career than a buyout, but old knees don’t understand story lines.
Garnett was great, and he should have played his entire career in Minnesota, and nothing guarantees a happy ending, not even when a superstar comes home.
No. 2: Bosh needs to concede and move on — After failing his physical with the Miami Heat reportedly due to blood-clot complications, Chris Bosh remains in limbo. He won’t report with the team for training camp and all along the Heat have kept themselves at arm’s distance regarding Bosh and his medical condition. Almost everyone, even former teammate Dwyane Wade, has dropped hints that maybe Bosh should seriously rethink his desire to play this season, or ever again. Meanwhile, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside are looming as the core of a team that once featured Bosh, Wade and LeBron James. Here’s Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald with the latest …
The question, with camp opening Tuesday: Can their on-court chemistry continue to improve?
The off-court dynamics between the two were so off kilter at times last season that Erik Spoelstra, last February, ordered them to go to dinner or do absolutely whatever was necessary to improve their chemistry.
Their collaboration improved almost immediately after that, and it will never be more important than it this season, with the departure of Dwyane Wade, who had better synergy with Whiteside than anybody, and the loss of Bosh.
Whereas Wade assisted on 92 Whiteside baskets and 29 alley-oops, Dragic assisted on just 65 of Whiteside’s hoops and 14 of his alley-oops.
But 50 of Dragic’s 65 assists to Whiteside came in 28 games after the All-Star break, compared with just 15 in 54 games before.
One reason why: The two teammates started talking a lot more, both off the court and during games, and the results have been noticeable. Whiteside started setting better screens for Dragic, which helped free him offensively.
“It was great,” Whiteside said this offseason, via Heat.com. “Each game me and Goran got better. He’s easy to talk to. He’s a really good point guard. As the season went on, me and Goran understood each other better.
“[This] year is going to be even bigger. More of me and Goran communicating on that basketball level and getting to know each other better.”
Spoelstra said earlier this year that the key was they both “committed to working together, before practice, after practice. Two guys that want to do it right and they understand they’re involved in a lot of collaborations together and they have to spend time working on it.
“It’s not going to happen through osmosis. They both wanted to make it better. They just didn’t necessarily know how to make it better. Just spend time together and you’ll figure it out.”
Dragic said he never ended up going “alone with Hassan” to dinner, but they did spend more time together in groups with teammates, and it helped because “you discuss things. You get to know the guy better and where he comes from. He opened up to me and vice versa. You know what the guy is thinking now.”
Also helpful: Dragic said he and Whiteside practiced pick-and-rolls alone, after practice.
Though they’ve always gotten along, Dragic, from Slovenia, and Whiteside, from North Carolina, don’t necessarily have a lot in common.
“He likes to play video games; I don’t do that,” Dragic said. “I have a family [with kids]; he doesn’t. But we both love basketball.”
The upshot, Dragic said, is they now they mastered non-verbal signals, to the point where Whiteside can anticipate a Dragic alley-oop before the defense knows it’s coming.
“It was hard” to get to this point, Dragic said. But the improved communication “has helped us function.”
Said Whiteside: “I know it looks like sometimes we’re out there arguing or fussing. But every time I see something, I tell him. And it goes both ways.”
No. 3: Donovan sees himself with OKC for long haul — When the Thunder lost Kevin Durant to free agency, it created a rather weird reality for coach Billy Donovan. He came to the Thunder two summers ago fully realizing that he might have only one season coaching Kevin Durant and that the team’s identity (and title chances) could drastically change overnight if Durant left. Maybe Donovan would regret leaving a comfortable gig with the Florida Gators. Well, when the Thunder opened camp Friday, Donovan was fully committed to the present and the future. Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman spoke with Donovan about this…
Billy Donovan’s second NBA season begins Saturday with Thunder training camp. Perhaps you’ve heard, Kevin Durant won’t be there.
The team that Donovan signed up for 17 months ago — a superstar-heavy, NBA-title-contending roster — has changed. Still talented. Still interesting. Still a winner. But not a title contender unless the basketball gods bestow upon us the sports story of the century.
Makes you wonder if Donovan laments coming to town. Makes you wonder if Donovan wonders what in the heck he’s gotten himself into.
This week, I asked Sam Presti how Donovan has responded to the different landscape. From knowing exactly what he had to not sure what he has. From NBA overdog to NBA underdog. From two superstars to one.
Presti said to ask Donovan. But then Presti told us what he thinks of the coach who leads the Thunder. “I think it is the same situation he signed on for, because the things that make a Billy Donovan a Billy Donovan is he wants to be the coach of the Thunder,” Presti said. “He wants to coach in Oklahoma City. He wants to coach with an organization that is committed to the values that I’ve covered … I think those are the things that drive a person like Billy Donovan. He wants to be a part of something. He wants to be a part of representing a city and the values of a city. And he wants to work his craft.”
Well, working his craft is not going to be a problem. To whatever extent Donovan was able to roll out the basketball and let Durant and Russell Westbrook perform their magic, that will happen no more. Donovan will be free to coach his butt off this season.
Truth is, Donovan did just that last season, when the Thunder traversed repeated valleys and emerged as a playoff force. No team played better in the 2016 playoffs than did Donovan’s Thunder. In the month of May, OKC went 7-6 against teams with 67 (Spurs) and 73 (Warriors) wins.
Donovan pushed all the right buttons, and the Thunder’s eventual fall had nothing to do with the quality of the coaching. Durant and Westbrook just famously locked up in the final five minutes of the Western Conference Finals’ Game 6.
The Thunder won’t get that close this season. Donovan won’t admit that, of course. He also talks like it’s OK if it is true.
Donovan said Clay Bennett and Presti made it clear that Durant’s return was no sure thing. Said he came to OKC not because of the dual superstars, but the values and culture that had been created.
“I believed in the vision of the organization,” Donovan said. “Those things resonated with me.”
You know the drill. All the things that Presti talks endlessly about. All the things that now will be put to the test in the post-Durant era. Hard work. Holistic approach to people. Trusting the process.
“Nothing’s really changed here,” Donovan said, words that will be tested on Oct. 25, when Durant dons a Warrior jersey for his first real game with Golden State. “The principles, the vision, those things haven’t changed. It’s not like the mission and the values have changed here.”
Donovan says he’s used to player departures. Nineteen years at Florida taught him to adjust. Players graduating. Players transferring. Players going pro early. Donovan went to Final Fours with virtual all-star teams and went to Final Fours with virtual no-name teams.
Truth is, Oklahoma City is a lot more accustomed to Durant than Donovan is to Durant. We had the tall drink of water for eight glorious seasons. Donovan coached him for one.
“When players leave, you gotta be aligned with the people that are in charge and the people you’re working with every single day,” Donovan said.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jrue Holiday and wife had their baby and now Lauren Holiday awaits surgery for a brain tumor … Russell Westbrook still hasn’t spoken with you know who … Knicks are staying mum about the charges against Derrick Rose for now … Yao Ming is having his jersey retired by the Rockets … Nik Pekovic may never play for the Wolves again … Jeff Teague is getting to know his new teammates in his hometown of Indy … Mitch McGary is very, very sorry.